“How can you think yourself a great man, when the first accident that comes along can wipe you out completely.”— Euripides
It’s one thing to live and another to live your life in a way that is antifragile.
What is Antifragility
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.
Things that are antifragile benefit from randomness, uncertainty, and variation.
Living an Antifragile Life
Now that we have this knowledge, what should we do with it?
Life is messy and seemingly getting messier. Can we position ourselves to gain from this disorder … to not only recover from mistakes but get stronger?
The answer is yes. There are principles we can follow to help us.
- Stick to simple rules
- Build in redundancy and layers (no single point of failure)
- Resist the urge to suppress randomness
- Make sure that you have your soul in the game
- Experiment and tinker — take lots of small risks
- Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
- Don’t get consumed by data
- Keep your options open
- Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
- Respect the old — look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time
In short, stop optimizing for today or tomorrow and start playing the long game. That means being less efficient in the short term but more effective in the long term. It’s easy to optimize for today, simply spend more money than you make or eat food that’s food designed in a lab to make you eat more and more. But if you play the long game you stop optimizing and start thinking ahead to the second-order consequences of your decisions.
It’s hard to play the long game when there is a visible negative as the first step. You have to be willing to look like an idiot in the short term to look like a genius in the long term. I believe that’s why so many people play the short game. But as the old adage goes, when you do what everyone else does, don’t be surprised when you get the same results everyone else does.